Outside the window, he stands. Alone in his COVID vigil of love.
The vigil became his new routine: park in the hospital lot, walk across the grass, and take his place at the window. On the other side of the ground-floor window, his wife fights COVID-19 from an ICU bed. She contracted the novel coronavirus after exposure from a friend. The elderly friend recovered after several days of a mild case of COVID.
COVID-19 first made his wife achy and chilled. Working three hours away from their home, she initially complained of fatigue; days later, her breathing changed. He noticed her ragged breathing on their nightly phone call. “Please go in to get checked out. You might have COVID. At least get a test.” By the time she checked into the local emergency department, she could not catch her breath and felt like she was drowning. So began the weeks of hospitalization and isolation. The contagious nature of COVID-19 restricted any and all visitors; only staff in personal protective equipment were allowed in the ICU.
Outside the window, he stands. Alone. A COVID vigil of love.
While she was on oxygen and sitting up in bed, he stood outside the window. He drove three hours each way to visit, promising her that he would come every day. At first, they texted by phone; then the COVID battle left her no energy to hold the phone. He spoke loudly, almost yelling through the window in his attempts to communicate with her directly. People walking to and from the hospital could not help but overhear his words. He spoke of memories, nostalgic recollections of trips from their honeymoon to last year’s California trip. “Remember the goats at the Air B&B?” he reminded her. He smiled at the memory of her instant love for those crazy goats and how that trip sparked her retirement dream to buy a hobby farm with goats.
Outside the window, he stands, keeping his promise to visit daily.
The six-hour daily drive was exhausting, so he rented a nearby place to stay during the week. The doctor’s assessment revealed significant lung damage and a recommendation to place a tube into the lungs. “Putting the tube into her airway and connecting the ventilator will decrease her work of breathing. The ventilator will transport air to her lungs, and save her effort and energy.” But she thought the ventilator was a death sentence, so she refused to be intubated.
After hearing about her mother’s fears, their daughter drove up from Chicago with her two small children. “Mom, please. The doctor says the vent will help your breathing. Please, Mom! My kids need their grandmother!” After his daughter and grandkids joined him at the window during that visit, he returned alone the next day. A week later, his son also made a visit to the window.
Outside the window, he stands. Alone again.
In the bleak November of 2020, the hospital grounds looked as cold and frozen as he felt. Numb to his sacrifice, he visited every day for his window vigil. She was on a ventilator, unable to speak. They had always talked every day. Years ago, he traveled overseas for his job. Regardless of time differences or the high cost of overseas calls, he and his wife spoke daily.
Now on the ventilator, she could not speak. He ached inside, missing that sweet voice, that sharp-witted humor that had initially attracted him to her. He nostalgically remembered that cute 20-something girl, wisps of hair framing her face, her ponytail swiping back and forth as they flirtatiously bantered. That wise woman still bantered with him, her intellect and humor always drawing out his kinder, gentler humor. Like their differing senses of humor, their partnership was a synergy of unique characteristics. From those early days of courtship and through their 43+ years of marriage, he loved her. That love and appreciation for his wife grew as she became mother to their two precious children, now grown. These empty nest years were a chance to savor their time together, just the two of them. How he missed her. The window—and the coronavirus that isolated her—created a painful barrier between them.
Outside the window, he stands, keeping his vows: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.
During his daily phone conversations with the nursing staff, he reminded them to tell his wife that he was there, standing outside the window, as close as he could get. The staff were hard to tell apart in their identical uniforms of personal protective equipment. Some of the day shift nurses, the most frequent visitors, he learned to distinguish. The kind one had a high ponytail bump under her blue cap; she always greeted his wife with a soft touch on her arm. The tall nurse walked straight to the machines, directing his eyes to the IV (intravenous medications) stands first. Her mask always moving, the older nurse was either singing or talking. He was glad that his wife could listen to something other than alarm bells and pump noises.
Outside the window, he stands alone, supporting his COVID-ravaged wife.
Weather: sunny and 72 degrees. Forty-eight degrees, cloudy with rain. Fifty-four degrees and drizzling. Snow flurries and 37 degrees. The only thing that changed was the Midwest weather. He kept his vigil outside the ICU window while she lay motionless in bed. In the mornings, the nurse let the sedation wear off in preparation for the assessment of spontaneous breathing, or weaning trial. Without sedation, his wife could try breathing on her own with the tube still in place. Sometimes she would wiggle her toes or move her hands.
To see her move, even such a tiny gesture, was a glimpse of hope through the window. She was understanding instructions and her limbs worked. His wife was still there! The medical staff did not offer encouragement about the weaning trials; they continued to speak of fatigue, COVID lung damage, and fluid noted on the chest X-rays. But he had seen her move, and for that sign of life he was grateful.
Outside the window, he stands alone, keeping his COVID vigil of love.
Lord Jesus, please meet him at the window. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Originally posted November 2020]